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Teen Drug Abuse on Rise in Cambridge

Alcohol and marijuana abuse is on the rise among Cambridge high school students, according to a survey released last week.

The survey of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School students showed that within a 30-day period, 40 percent of students responding had at least one alcoholic drink, 21 percent had smoked marijuana at least once and 13 percent had smoked at least one cigarette.

In 1992, 34 percent of Cambridge high school students reported drinking alcohol in the last month and 14 percent of students reported using marijuana, according to a survey.

Rates of substance abuse were substantially lower in Cambridge than in Massachusetts as a whole. Alcohol abuse was 9 percent higher and cigarette smoking was 21 percent higher in the state.

Substance abuse is also prevalent among students in or below seventh grade. Asked if they had ever used drugs, 21 percent of students said they had tried alcohol, 26 percent had smoked a cigarette and nine percent had tried marijuana.

Dr. Wayne M. Harding, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who helped present the findings at a community meeting last Thursday, said the figures show the need to conduct more drug education before high school.

Harding also said he advocated implementing more drug programs for adults.

"I hate to present only student drug use. It is a common misconception that substance abuse is an adolescent problem. Use of drugs by people from 18 to 34 is much higher than those from 12 to 17," Harding said.

The survey, which was conducted in April, was sponsored by the city's Substance Abuse Task Force.

The task force has supported many drug prevention programs in the Cambridge area. Chief among these is one which supplies mini-grants to youth organizations to train peer counselors.

John Vargos, director of the task force, said that one program has enlisted local bars and liquor stores in the fight against substance abuse.

"The stores and bars came together as a group to do their own monitoring, to do training on how to spot a fake ID, and to work towards a common piece of identification," Vargos said.

The task force is one of 219 drug prevention programs funded by the federal government to promote drug abuse awareness in local communities.

Harding said he agreed with the task force's goals, but also advocated more parental involvement.